What does God think?

How to focus on God’s thoughts for a change

Image credit: Wikipedia/Apollo2005

VERSE

How precious to me are Your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand — when I awake, I am still with you. Psalm 139:17–18 NIV

SUMMARY

Once we have become friends with God through Jesus, we have a conversation going with Him. But a listening attitude is important if we are going to hear His voice — not pretending we know best. Agreeing that His thoughts are precious is a good way of seeking His wisdom for our lives.

Conversation with God

Some people are better at conversation than others. A couple of things that are the mark of every good conversationalist, are the ability to ask good conversational questions, which empower the response of others… and listening to them.

And one of the most common of those empowering phrases is: “What do you think? Or the variant, “What did you think of…?”

People find it easy (too easy, sometimes) to give their opinion, and asking for their opinion is honouring. God doesn’t need our help in conversation… or does He? He speaks all the time. But like the quiet participant in a noisy group, He doesn’t always have opportunity to say what He thinks, to give His perspective.

“What do You think? What are You saying, about what is on my mind?” In conversation generally, we need to draw out the quiet person. We have to show that we are listening. We have all been trapped in situations where no one is listening and we don’t see any point in putting forward a view just to be shouted down.

Does God struggle with our strong opinions and prejudices? Because it is as if we don’t care about His perspective.

Have you ever tried to participate in a conversation where you held the high ground in terms of knowledge or experience, but no one would listen? They were all too busy offering their theories, over-assertive as people who are unsure of themselves often are. It’s like a hospital doctor trying to help someone who is full of having consulted “Dr Google”, or a traffic cop trying to talk down gently someone three times over the limit.

That can be our approach to God, which blocks His wisdom and disrespects His all-seeing, all-knowing higher perspective.

When we agree “How precious to me are YOUR thoughts” we are putting ourselves in the right place to listen.

How does God share His thoughts with us? The first way is through His word. Often He draws our attention to what He has already said, and giving it a sense of how it applies to us. So to make this prayer approach, we need a Bible (or online Bible or app) ready.

God is always speaking and the second way is by an impression in our spirit. Occasionally this can be so strong that it is almost audible, but often it is more of a whisper. We’ll need to check it out in the word — He never contradicts Himself — but God also uses the principle of “two or three witnesses”, in other words, He repeats Himself and uses more than one avenue. When we are hearing the same thing from slightly different sources, this gives us confidence to believe what God is saying.

The third way is through other people who love Him and hear Him. It could be a Christian friend, a preacher, or through spiritual gifts.

“How precious are Your thoughts” is a way of asking for God’s wisdom. James, in his letter, says we should ask but should not doubt what we hear, but act on it James 1:5–8.

It all starts with our relationship with Him. This needs to be the Jesus kind of relationship, the personal belief and trust and connection. This is how we count His thoughts precious and receive them as life-giving.

Prayer

O God, Your thoughts are precious, of incomparable value by the measure of man’s wisdom. You see all, understand all, and know the end from the beginning.

Help me to be a hearer and a doer of Your Word1. Where my thoughts crowd in — my anxieties and doubts, my wrong judgments and the opinions I proudly uphold‚ forgive me, help me to quiet my soul and — to make space for You to speak and me to hear.

My way too often proves to be no way, but Your way is life and salvation. Your words are like gold2 and taste sweeter than honey3.

Thank You, holy and Almighty God, that You delight in speaking to me as I come to You in Jesus. Amen.

Take away

  • Find a time and place to be quiet. It could be at home, out for a walk, even driving the car — or a quiet spot in a church building.
  • List your most pressing concerns — the thoughts You are full of — and park them with God.
  • Commit the listening time to Him, ask the Holy Spirit to help you and read the Scriptures mentioned again. And note down whatever God shows you, whether it seems to make sense or not.
  • Be open to God speaking to you subsequently and give you confirmations, like Scriptures that go with what you sense you are hearing. To share this with a pastor or trusted Christian friend can be very helpful.
  1. James 1:5–8 []
  2. Psalm 12:6 []
  3. Psalm 119:103 []

Know what’s going on in the spiritual realm

Spiritual realm: image credit: Ian Greig

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13 NIV

Paul doesn’t end his letter to the church in Corinth with a cheery “Keep up the good work” but something Churchill could have said in 1940 when threat of invasion was all the talk.

What are we standing firm against?

If we agree that this is God’s word and therefore timeless, speaking to us today as it did to believers in the first century, what are we standing firm against and on our guard to challenge?

Our world is bigger than our everyday lives, what the BBC defines as news, and the government and institutions.

The spiritual realm — and added dimension

We are spiritual people, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, belonging to a Saviour and Lord who doesn’t live in a building and who is not recognised when He makes an appearance. For us, there is a spiritual dimension that has a considerable bearing on our lives and communities, both for good and for evil.

Occasionally in the Bible someone has a visitation from an angel, or an impression of one in a dream or vision. Abraham had some signpost moments like this and Jacob was injured in a wrestling match with an angel. Joshua was given detailed instruction by an angel before the conquest of Jericho. Isaiah encountered an angel as part of his call to speak to the hard-hearted. Joseph received vital direction from an angel three times. Angels at the tomb announced Christ’s resurrection, others reminded the disciples of Jesus’ return, and sprang Peter from prison1

What does this tell us? That these people of giant faith were specially chosen to be visited?

Step back a moment and consider what is happening. Even if angels do appear to specially favoured people (some were, some were not) this mainly tells us that what is happening in the heavenlies, needs to be communicated to someone on earth… to the person who needed to know God’s strategy at that time.

  • What happens in heaven is not divided from what happens on earth
  • The heavenly realm is mostly unseen. That does not make it unreal

We have a real, active and vindictive enemy — completely real in Jesus experience and teaching — out to to spoil what he can get his hands on. He and his demons inhabit the spiritual realm unseen, and prey on our thoughts and lives where we are

We also have help from the heavenly realm, accessible to us because we can ask for it through Jesus. And that’s the point of this verse, this closing reminder from Paul:

Be on your guard
Stand firm in faith
Be courageous
Be strong

He is saying, don’t forget the battle that is going on over every righteous Jesus-centred action you take. Thoughts as well! And so expect some push-back — but stand firm and don’t give in to it.

This is different from the gentle church-orientated religion many of us were brought up in. Those four instructions are not gentle. And this is not about church, so much as the One who said “I will build My church“.

He will. And He does it in partnership with us — as we stay alert and on our guard, spiritually.

For a prayer about this, see this post on GLOW.

  1. Genesis 32:22-32Joshua 5:13-15Isaiah 6:6-7Matthew 1:20-21, 2:13, 19-20Matthew 28:1-10Acts 1:11, Acts 12:6-10 []

The kingdom of God is not the church…

… but it depends on us keeping our house in order

Wheat and weeds growing together near Tillington, NW Herefordshire.     Image credit: Ian Greig

Read Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and 1 Corinthians 5:6-13

Among casual readers of the Bible, there has been a long tradition of confusing the kingdom of God with the church.

This was especially common during the era of Christendom in Europe where the church and state powers were enmeshed, and it persists today where people assume the organisational structures of the church and the power wielded by church leaders is synonymous with God’s kingdom.

Unfortunately, this has led to a dangerous misreading of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds.

In the story, Jesus compares “the kingdom of heaven” to a man who sowed good seed in a field while his enemy secretly sowed weeds. In order to protect the wheat from being uprooted prematurely, the weeds are allowed to grow alongside the wheat until the harvest.

Those who equate the kingdom with the church have understood this parable to mean that wicked, harmful people should be tolerated within the church alongside those seeking righteousness. In other words, it is not appropriate to exercise church discipline or expel anyone for any reason. Such actions, they say, are reserved for God alone at the final judgment.

This view, however, is a complete misreading of Jesus’ parable and requires one to ignore many other passages within the New Testament - and the words of Jesus himself - that call upon church leaders to exercise discernment and discipline in order to protect the church from harm and guide everyone toward godliness. In its worst application, this read of the parable has been an excuse for not removing corrupt or abusive church leaders.

The story of the wheat and the weeds is not about the church. It is about the world. We occupy an age in which the kingdom of God and its righteousness has taken root. It is growing and expanding. But its presence is not without resistance. Alongside God’s kingdom is also the evil of the world. Until the harvest, we must expect the goodness of God’s kingdom and the evil of the world to coexist in tension with each other.

But the fact that evil persists in the world is never an excuse for the church to ignore it within its own community or to silence those who have been wounded by its agents.

Original post by Skye Jethani in ‘With God Daily’, July 9


See also Understanding Revival page with the wheat and weeds passage of Matthew 13, in The Living Word

Real insight comes through seeking God afresh

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Image credit: Ian Greig

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7 NIV

TODAY’S news leads with alarming increases in coronavirus cases where regions — and individuals — have disregarded the call for isolation. Rallies, protests and rave parties have shown people who look like “fools despising wisdom”, and reported surges in hospital admissions give evidence to the connection.

Independence is part of the human condition and it is not all bad. We were created in the beginning to be thinking people with free will and the ability to exercise judgment – either well, or badly, in the case of Adam and his legacy to us.

We have been created to exercise good judgment in this world, administering it well under God. This goes back to the earliest of all the covenants when God spoke:

God created mankind in His own image… male and female… blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase… rule over every living creature…” Genesis 1:27-28.

This is freewill combined with responsibility in covenant with God whose creation it is. Everything we have, we have and hold for God and His glory.

Fast forward to the here and now, and church buildings have been closed for three months. A limited opening of buildings is beginning, but restrictions on gathering and worship (no singing!) remain. What is the Lord saying about this?

For people whose church experience is centred on a building, part of a historic institution, presided over by a minister sometimes called a ‘priest’,  whose identity is very much about having reserved functions and even access in that building — the restrictions have been a severe blow.

Set-back or wake-up?

But is this a set-back or a wake-up? In the NT, the priesthood of Aaron’s family ended at the Cross — the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom during the crucifixion, a rather big hint. A generation later, the temple itself had gone, completely destroyed in the siege of Jerusalem. Now there were no priests, no ritual, no buildings — and the teaching in the early church went a quite different direction, emphasising how every believer was a specially shaped “living stone” of a new kind of spiritual ‘temple’.

Now with Jesus ascended and enthroned as the great and permanent and — dare we say — only High Priest, the ‘priesthood’ has now been shared out, not among those of a particular priestly tribe or privileged order, but involving every single committed Spirit-filled Christian believer who looks to serve Jesus and represent Him to the wider world. This is not about a ‘holy person in a holy building’ and it is not about the performance of an elaborate ritual — there is no hint of either of these things in the NT record. Where there were attempts to institutionalise the church and put existing Jewish traditions on to new believers, Paul writes in forthright terms saying: “It is for freedom you have been set free!” Don’t go back into [religious] slavery!1

That makes lockdown restrictions a God-given opportunity to recalibrate and reassess. He didn’t send the pandemic, but He is adept at turning what is intended for evil, to His own good – and using times of difficulty and, one hopes, increased prayer – to help His people rediscover, re-imagine and re-align with His purpose.

Genesis 50:20

See also Max Lucado article on this verse

Book of Esther

Perhaps God wants His church back! With buildings closed and the usual routine of activities curtailed, it is our opportunity to exercise some “fear of the Lord” as Proverbs puts it. That for us is intentionally putting Him first, giving Him what is His, willingly deferring and setting aside our own preferences and priorities. Not simply wanting the imagined security of the old routine.

Some churches have been forward in finding creative ways to connect and share worship without physical contact. Church by livestream compels something more engaging, more relevant, more participative. There’s no room for anything lengthy or boring on a small screen, and no one has to stay on the link! 

Set-back or wake-up?

As one church leader told me, “We realised almost immediately that there was no point in trying to replicate what we used to do week by week — we had to be different.”

Others trying (I think misguidedly) to recreate a formal Sunday service in formal clergy attire and mannerisms over Zoom from a kitchen have given a mixed, and strangely discordant message!

It would be tragic if there were a return to the old ways of church being building-centred and clergy-dominated when it has just been pushed out into the community. People have been encouraged to learn to celebrate their Lord by hearing and sharing the word for themselves, express their own prayers of adoration and intercession, and remember His sacrifice with their own bread roll and wine glass. 

This is the true fear of the Lord, awe of Him, which is the beginning of walking in the knowledge of Him. This is the seedbed of revival. 

Let’s not trample this new growth, these small green shoots of revival,  with a return to dull and wordy religiosity.

  1. Galatians 5:1 []

Pleasing people or pondering unpopularity 3

Trusting God is required of us – and we can trust Him. When we don’t, it’s a response from the old life “ruled by sin”.
Sid the cat, image credit: Ian Greig 02829

Avoiding the trap — when life pushes us towards sin

Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
Our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…

Romans 6:1-2, 6-7

Earlier we considered Jeremiah’s dilemma, experiencing “insult and reproach all day long”. And he ponders how to respond in a God-honouring way, and the temptation to react by refusing to speaking out any more: “If I say, ‘I will not mention His word or speak any more in His name…’ “

For Jeremiah, identified by God before birth to represent him, NOT to speak out would have been apparently wise, quite understandable, a reasonable choice – and knowingly disobedient. Not have been the most obvious sin in the book — but it is the more nuanced forms of disobedience which often trip us up.

Jesus’ teaching about the persecution and conflict that would follow His disciples reveals a subtle sin that the enemy sets up for us, and then uses in accusation. It is simply lack of trust. Being constrained by fear, rather than being led by the Holy Spirit, is a reaction rather than a measured response. Jesus emphasises repeatedly: “Don’t be afraid”.

The old reactions are ingrained — getting angry, finding someone to blame, saying the wrong things — and ignoring God rather than listening and trusting. But, as Paul says, the old reactions belong to the old self.

This is an encouragement to choose to respond, with God, rather than react independently from God. That way, we avoid giving the devil a foothold, a way into our thought-life and life generally, Ephesians 4:27.

Pleasing people or pondering unpopularity 2

Jesus warned that He would cause conflict

Light and shadow: Recognising the darkness which opposes the light and causes hostility
Image credit: Ian Greig 03117

Matthew 10:28, 34-36, 38
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…
… “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”

Jesus was pretty up-front about the reality of hostile reactions — not everybody sees the Good News as good for them, especially if it threatens their status quo in some way.

Even families, He said, would be divided about what He represented.

Saying that He did not come to bring peace presents us with a problem. What, then, He did come to bring?

Foretold as the “Prince of Peace” with government on His shoulders1, Jesus was announced as Saviour and Messiah by an angel accompanied by a heavenly host praising God for the One bringing peace to those on who His favour rests2.

This is a fundamental truth and expectation — that “The Lord blesses His people with peace3. In His final long discourse to the disciples, He promised them: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you… not… as the world gives”4.

But there’s a clue in the “not as the world gives” phrase, easily overlooked. So let’s look at it.

Peace with God is taking a position against the one who opposes God. Peace with God by definition is a rejection of Satan and his control — and that puts up a target for all the retributions Satan is known for, like confusion, conflict and slander.

Wind back the story three years and we have Jesus fasting alone in the wilderness, and having a series of encounters with Satan5. In the third and final of these confrontations, Satan shows Him “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour”6, and he goes on to say, that if Jesus would worship him (Satan) instead of His Father, he would (so he said – but he is is a liar on every occasion) allow Jesus control of those power structures.

There’s a lot of power and control in the world’s systems and institutions where sin, corruption and lack of submission to God puts them at the disposal of the devil. These might be human kings or rulers, and they might even be religious leaders — the Temple and Sanhedrin council was a case in point — but Satan had all he needed to pull their strings and use them for harm, and not for good. We see this same strategy today.

Jesus the Prince of Peace and proclaimer of justice to the nations7 is resurrected and ascended to heaven as Lord of Lords and also as Great High Priest. So our allegiance and deference to Jesus — just by itself — stands in opposition to every strand of ungodly control and corrupt administration, in the world or, sadly, in the less spiritual and more institutional dimensions of Christian religion..

Why does that mean His disciples will encounter conflict rather than His peace?

  1. Many people will receive Him and respond to His love and the grace of His acceptance. However some will react against to the Lordship dimension of this.
  2. Jesus in you or me — the Holy Spirit one with our human spirit — will stir up opposition from every spirit that is not submitted to Him. It is an unseen, unspoken, spiritual stand-off.
  3. The mention of Jesus, as well as the presence of Jesus, brings into focus the reality of two spiritual kingdoms which are opposed. The kingdom of darkness is exposed by Jesus’ kingdom of light. Jesus taught about the “strong man’s house” and Satan’s kingdom,8 and went on to say, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me”,9. With Jesus, the common philosophy of the world is overturned: everything is not relative, there no middle ground, there exists no variety of paths to the truth. It is light or darkness, Him or the enemy of our souls!

That said, Jesus as Lord confers peace, wholeness, spiritual prosperity and inner joy on to those who are His. It is like joining a regiment on the front line: being shot at by the enemy is what happens — but this is a uniquely well supported and equipped regiment, led personally by the most highly decorated and personable commanding officer, who also has an unmatched record of victory.

  1. Isaiah 9:6 []
  2. Luke 2:10-14 []
  3. Psalm 29:11 []
  4. John 14:27 []
  5. Matthew 4:1-11 []
  6. Matthew 4:8-9 []
  7. Matt. 12:18-20, Isaiah 42:1-4 []
  8. Matt. 12:25-29 []
  9. Matthew 12:30 []